Opened officially as Pioneers Park in 1929, the name unofficially dropped the 's' in the mid-1930s and today is known by both names. Over the decades the Park has been used for a variety of local community purposes, one of the most controversial being whippet racing, which came to an end after nearby residents protested about the noise.
Fringed with raupo, flax and toi toi, an estuary once flooded the area, where the Park now sits, twice a day at high tide. Forming the southern-most corner of Parororoa (Nelson Haven), the estuary stretched from Matangi Āwhio (Auckland Point) to where Gloucester street is today. The estuary was fed by numerous small streams draining Toi Toi Valley, Washington Valley and the Mahitahi floodplain. It was known as Paruparu and treasured by Māori as a haven for wildlife. For centuries Paruparu was a mahinga kai , a centre point for trade and a social meeting place. Early sketches of Nelson show waka in the estuary.
Paruparu frustrated Nelson's early European settlers, who saw it as a major obstacle to travel and trade between the port and the centre of town. They named it The Tideway. Many were impatient to build a causeway and bridge to avoid the high tide. In 1842 Saltwater Bridge was completed, much to the relief of many townsfolk who thought it had ‘taken too long'. The story goes that it was not just the tide that had held up progress. The ‘grog shop on the corner', sited where the Globe Hotel now stands had waylaid labourers on many occasions. (The Globe Hotel was one of Nelson's oldest pubs - following a fire, it closed in 2012).
Until Saltwater Bridge was built, the way to the Port was up Washington Valley and down Richardson Street or over Russell Street. Sarah Sharp (later Higgins) wrote in her diary:
When we were put ashore there were a lot of men who had come before, picking the hill at the beach making a road. My father asked them where the Barracks were for the immigrants. They told us to go over the hill and down what is now Washington Valley. Then we had to go through flax and a lot of mud and we got round to where the church is now on the hill.
In the mid 1860s contract work began for the Nelson Board of Works to fill the Washington Valley end of the Tideway, but it was not until 1928 that the filling was completed by the Nelson City Council. Unemployment work schemes provided the labour to fill ‘Kings Acre', as the area was then called, mostly with rubble from rock falls on Rocks Road.
Click image to enlarge
It was not until 1929 that Kings Acre was recreated as Pioneers Park. The opening day speeches acknowledged the fact that the park was man-made on reclaimed land. The name celebrated the contribution of Nelson's early settlers, many of whom were in the audience. There was a large line-up for the Pioneer Group photograph. A Naval guard of honour and a military band added a fitting touch of ceremonial flavor to the opening day.
The Appo Hocton connection
Nelson pioneer Appo Hocton sailed into Nelson aboard the Thomas Harrison on 25 October 1842 to become the first recorded Chinese arrival in New Zealand. Wong Ah Poo Hoc Ting left his homeland at nine years of age to take up ship life on a British vessel, before getting a steward's job on a New Zealand bound ship. Upon arrival in Nelson he deserted ship and hid in the Port Hills until caught charged, sentenced and released after a spell in the House of Correction on Church Hill.
In 1843 Doctor Thomas Renwick (who had been surgeon aboard the Thomas Harrison) employed Appo as a domestic servant. By 1849 the young man was self employed as a cartage contractor, carrying out work such as the filling of The Tideway. Business was successful, but classification as an 'alien' prevented Appo from purchasing land. At 29 years of age he applied successfully for naturalisation. This occurred on 3 January 1853, making Appo Hocton the first naturalised Chinese person in New Zealand.
Appo purchased land in Washington Valley, including Town Acre Sections 135, 136, 86 and 76. He built a house for himself and seven cottages for lease. Today (2010) you can see four of the cottages he built or owned - 40 Washington Road and 40, 38 and 16 Hastings Street.
In addition to being a Washington Valley landlord, Appo dealt in scrap metal and fungus exports to China. The fungus - Auricularia polytricha commonly known as Jew's ear - was a popular Chinese cooking ingredient that grew on fallen logs in the Nelson area.
Appo married twice, had several children, moved to Dovedale to farm in 1876 and died aged in his late 90's in 1920.
This information was produced for a Nelson City Council Heritage Panel, 2008
Updated May 2021
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Further sources - Pioneers Park
- Bell, C.W. (1978) Unfinished business. Nelson, N.Z.:Nelson City Council
- The Nelson names (1966) Nelson Historical Society Journal, 2(1), 9